Thursday, October 5, 2017

Reference Questions Roundup

Going through the unfinished drafts of blog posts, I discovered this one from the early days of the blog. In celebration of our twelfth year, here is our 1,232nd blog post - a litany of reference questions and an observation about one of the hardest types of question.

Do you have a map of the travels of St. Paul? Where can I find an annual report of a company? Do you have the tax form for filing returns late? Who invented Mrs. (Santa) Claus? Who is the CEO of Overlook Hospital and what is his phone number? Can you get me the Texaco Star Theater featuring Ed Wynn on cassette? What were the reviews of the play "Diary of Anne Frank" when it first appeared in Israel and Germany in 1955 and 1956? Does Columbia Middle School have a time capsule and where is it? How can I get rid of the smell of a dead deer from the road in front of my house? Can you get me the Fugitive Slave Cases, 1850 - 1860 from the United States District Courts in Pennsylvania? Where did the glaciers stop in Berkeley Heights? How can I find missing classmates for my 60th high school reunion? I need to see the Williamsburg paint colors. Can you get me Joan Hamburg's recipe for ginger cookies; she mentioned them on her radio show. How can I learn how to read an annual report? I read a book from this library that I really liked a few years ago, but I don't remember the author or title, can you find it? I need the N.J. law about unlawful dumping of trash. Do you have a form for a living will? What newspapers do they have in Omaha, Nebraska and what are the phone numbers? What should I read next? Do you have the book that gives the value of cars? Who is my N.J. state representative? Can you find an obituary in the Star Ledger - I don't know the person's name or when he died. How should I prune grape vines? How do you distill water?
We get questions like this every day in the Reference Department, by phone, by email and in person.

Which one of the above is the most difficult question? I think it is, "what should I read next?" What people like to read is completely subjective and often hard to describe. The so-called "readers' advisory" question is definitely the trickiest one to answer successfully.

So answering questions that can be answered with a fact is far easier than answering a question that requires a subjective judgement based on the taste of the person who asks the question. But if you do ask your local public librarian what to read next, the librarian will try very hard to figure out what kind of reader you are, what reading mood you are in, and will try to steer you towards something enjoyable. Forget 'book guilt,' librarians just want people to enjoy reading.

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